• Girlchild
  • Girlchild


3.6 41
by Tupelo Hassman

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Rory Hendrix is the least likely of Girl Scouts. She hasn't got a troop or even a badge to call her own. But she's checked the Handbook out from the elementary school library so many times that her name fills all the lines on the card, and she pores over its surreal advice (Uniforms, disposing of outgrown; The Right Use of Your Body; Finding Your Way When

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Rory Hendrix is the least likely of Girl Scouts. She hasn't got a troop or even a badge to call her own. But she's checked the Handbook out from the elementary school library so many times that her name fills all the lines on the card, and she pores over its surreal advice (Uniforms, disposing of outgrown; The Right Use of Your Body; Finding Your Way When Lost) for tips to get off the Calle: that is, the Calle de las Flores, the Reno trailer park where she lives with her mother, Jo, the sweet-faced, hard-luck bartender at the Truck Stop.

Rory's been told that she is one of the "third-generation bastards surely on the road to whoredom." But she's determined to prove the county and her own family wrong. Brash, sassy, vulnerable, wise, and terrified, she struggles with her mother's habit of trusting the wrong men, and the mixed blessing of being too smart for her own good. From diary entries, social workers' reports, half-recalled memories, arrest records, family lore, Supreme Court opinions, and her grandmother's letters, Rory crafts a devastating collage that shows us her world even as she searches for the way out of it.

Tupelo Hassman's Girlchild is a heart-stopping and original debut.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Blighted opportunity and bad choices revisit three generations of women in a Reno, Nev., trailer park in these affecting dispatches by debut novelist Hassman. Narrator Rory Dawn Hendrix, “R.D.,” is growing up in the late ’60s on the dusty calle, where families scrape by on low-paying jobs and government assistance, everything is broken down, violence barely suppressed, babysitting shared, and “uncle” is more often than not a euphemism for child molester. “Smokey, Barney, Johnny Law, Pig, uncles with their badges, with their belt buckles, say, ‘Hey Sugar, Toots, Sweet Thing, is your mama home?’ hand already through the already ripped screen door, finger on the latch.” Teenage pregnancies dogged both R.D.’s capricious mother, Jo, a waitress with four grown sons, and grandmother Shirley Rose, an inveterate gambler employed at the keno ticket counter who couldn’t keep R.D.’s grandfather from sexually abusing R.D. and her sisters, and told R.D. to “keep her legs closed if she wanted to keep her future open.” As bad as it is, there’s some hope that this girl, with her early aptitude at spelling, will escape the stigma of being “feebleminded.” Poring over a secondhand copy of The Girl Scout Handbook, with its how-to emphasis on honor and duty, comforts R.D., especially when babysat by Carol, a brutalized neighbor girl, who leaves R.D. alone with her predatory father, “the Hardware Man.” Hassman’s characters are hounded by a relentless, recurring poverty and ignorance, and by shame, so that the sins of the mothers keep repeating, and suicide is often the only way out. Despite a few jarring moments of moralizing, this debut possesses powerful writing and unflinching clarity. Agent: Bill Clegg, WME Entertainment. (Feb.)
Library Journal
In this brutally realistic portrait of trailer-park America, Rory Hendrix struggles to survive poverty and abuse with advice from the Girl Scout Handbook, which she has checked out many times from the library. A heartbreaking yet humorous coming-of-age tale. (Xpress Reviews, 2/24/12)—Wilda Williams

(c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Reviews
Bright young girl must endure family dysfunction and sexual abuse while coming of age in a Reno trailer park during the late 1980s. Life in the Calle de Las Flores trailer park, as Rory Dawn Hendrix tells it, comes with its own unique rituals and social mores. People live paycheck-to-paycheck, cops and child-protective services are the natural enemies and getting away from the Calle is "an act of will akin to suicide, in force and determination." An excellent student whose off-the-charts test scores amaze and confound her teachers, Rory nonetheless feels she is of "feebleminded" stock. Her hard-drinking mother Johanna tends bar at the Truck Stop, relying on her lissome figure to eke out tips. Bearing four sons before she was 21 years old (and losing all her teeth by the time she was 25), Johanna has more than her fair share of demons. Her four grown sons chose to live with their father over her, and she seems ill equipped to take care of herself, let alone another person. Like Johanna, Rory's grandma Shirley Rose has an ugly history with men, and an addiction of her own. She prefers the slots, and looks after Rory while her mom works. When she finally moves from the Calle, Johanna entrusts Rory to a sullen teenage neighbor, Carol. It turns out that Carol's father, popularly known as the Hardware Man, has been molesting Carol, and preys upon Rory as well. And when he in turn moves away, taking that secret with him, it is left to Rory to rebuild her shattered self-esteem. Taking inspiration from a battered library copy of The Girl Scout Handbook, Rory does a remarkable job raising herself, while trying to let go of the people (and hurts) that no longer serve her. With a compelling (if harrowing) story and a wise-child narrator, Hassman's debut gives voice—and soul—to a world so often reduced to cliché. A darkly funny and frequently heartbreaking portrait of life as one of America's have-nots.
Megan Mayhew Bergman
Hassman avoids falling into stock characterization—the deprived but talented protagonist who overcomes great odds to achieve success—by emphasizing the gut-wrenching details of Rory's childhood. Rory's success is never guaranteed. In fact, as the novel progresses, it seems heartbreakingly unlikely…Although the novel is harrowing, Hass­man's imaginative prose helps the reading go easier. Trailer park epigrams…and moments of strange beauty enhance our sense of the Calle community.
—The New York Times Book Review
Susannah Meadows
It takes real talent to make something beautiful out of a trailer park. Girlchild, Tupelo Hassman’s lacerating debut novel, is the story of Rory Dawn Hendrix, a young girl growing up in the Calle, a cluster of mobile homes on a plot of dust outside Reno, Nev. Ms. Hassman is such a poised storyteller that her prose practically struts. Her words are as elegant as they are fierce. A voice as fresh as hers is so rare that at times I caught myself cheering…I'd go anywhere with this writer.
—The New York Times
From the Publisher
"This debut possesses powerful writing and unflinching clarity." —Publishers Weekly Starred Review

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Product Details

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
5.60(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.10(d)

Read an Excerpt


A Novel
By Tupelo Hassman

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 2012 Tupelo Hassman
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780374162573


Mama always hid her mouth when she laughed. Even when she spoke too gleefully, mouth stretched too wide by those happy muscles, teeth too visible. I can still recognize someone from my neighborhood by their teeth. Or lack of them. And whenever I do, I call these people family. I know immediately that I can trust them with my dog but not with the car keys and not to remember what time, exactly, they’re coming back for their kids. I know if we get into a fight and Johnny shows up we’ll agree that there has been “No problem, Officer, we’ll keep it down.”

I know what they hide when they hide those teeth. By the time Mama was fifteen she had three left that weren’t already black or getting there, and jagged. She had a long time to learn how to cover that smile. No matter how she looked otherwise, tall and long-legged, long brown hair, pale skin that held its flush, it was this something vulnerable about the mouth and eyes too that kept men coming back to her. The men would likely say this was due to her willingness to welcome them back, and Mama may have been an easy lay, but I’m cool with that because any easy lay will tell you, making it look easy is a lot of work. Still, no matter how fine she looked, especially after she got herself a set of fine white dentures for her twenty-fifth birthday, Mama never forgot how ugly she felt with those snaggly teeth. In her head, she never stopped being a rotten-mouthed girl.

It’s the same with being feebleminded. No matter how smart you might appear to be later with your set of diplomas on their fine white parchment, the mistakes you made before the real lessons sunk in never fade. No matter how high you hang those documents with their official seals and signatures, how shining and polished the frame, your reflection in the glass will never let you forget how stupid you felt when you didn’t know any better. You never stop seeing those gaps in your smile.

hope chest

Here are two things of mine: a glass unicorn with golden hooves, the body broken in several pieces, and what looks like a broken necklace. Did I break these? I stroke the horse’s thigh, this yes, but the necklace, no. The necklace came to me like this, links of smooth, small pebbles in shades of underwater. Each stone has clasps of metal on its ends or hardened bits of glue from where the clasps, once upon a time, connected. What is missing, what I do not have, is the letter that explains these stones, and what it is I’m to do with them now. The letter was written from my grandma to me on a late Christmas, written on onionskin paper (as she always wrote) and in black felt-tip (as she always wrote) with all of her usual underlines and emphasis, and I remember at least these words . . . these stones are like the women in our family, some disconnected, some lost, but each part of a greater chain and each beautiful in its own way. There were once many strands, but here are all that remain. It will be up to you to keep them together. I also know that these words were said better, so much better, by Grandma Shirley Rose. But she’s not here. What’s here are these stones, this broken horse, stacks of letters in felt-tip and onionskin, a tattered Girl Scout Handbook, a welfare file copied from carbon paper, burnt-out votives, shotgun shells, tennis shoes, one green thumb, and me. My name is Rory Dawn Hendrix, feebleminded daughter of a feebleminded daughter, herself the product of feebleminded stock. Welcome to the Calle.


Just north of Reno and just south of nowhere is a town full of trailers and the front doors of the dirtiest ones open onto the Calle. When the Calle de las Flores trailer park was first under development on the rum-and-semen-stained outskirts of Reno, all of its streets were going to glow with the green of new money and freshly trimmed hedges and Spanish names that evoked the romance of the Old West. At the first curve off the I-395 a promise was erected of what was to come, bold white letters against a gold background, CALLE DE LAS FLORES—COME HOME TO THE NEW WEST. But soon after the first sewer lines were laid down and the first power lines were run up, the investors backed out because the Biggest Little City in the World was found to be exactly that, too little. With its dry, harsh climate and harsher reputation, Reno could not support suburbs of a middle-class kind, and the new home buyers needed to make the Calle’s property values thrive never arrived. Once the big money figured that out, the big money said adios and Calle de las Flores ended before it’d begun.

Broken in half during the first Sierra winter, what remains of the sign still stands at that first curve off the interstate. Warped by the weight of too much snow and disappointment, beat down by too many punches from the fists of Calle boys, the DE LAS FLORES have scattered to the winds. All that’s left to speak for the neighborhood that grew up around it is the word CALLE, its two Spanish L’s asking why on a desert-bleached sign.

roll call

Mama says my brothers were the only reason she’d not followed Grandma to the Calle years before, so when the boys left home to free fish from the ocean with their delinquent dad, we left Santa Cruz and the man who was my father in the rearview. Mama had come to Reno the first time years before that, when she was getting divorced from my brothers’

daddy. She’d had to stay here for six weeks to make it legal, and even in that short time was able to find a job, so she knew she could find work here again, running keno or making change, and Grandma Shirley agreed. Grandma used to live in California too but she moved here before I was born, moved for good after living here temporarily to finally escape marriage to Grandpa John, Mama’s dad. She found she could escape his memory easier here too. Not only that, the pay was higher and the rents were lower, so Grandma gave up the wet and wild nature of Santa Cruz for the death and dirt of Reno’s high desert in order to make a fresh start, and four years later so did we. By then, Grandma had put in her time, marking tickets behind one keno counter after another from Boomtown to the Strip before she eventually got a job tending bar at the Truck Stop right at the end of the Calle. The desert sand of the Calle couldn’t be more different from the sandy beaches of Santa Cruz, but the cement and glass and ringing slots of Reno’s downtown still felt more like home than anywhere else because this was the first place that ever delivered what both Hendrix women wanted— freedom from their husbands. The Biggest Little City in the World took them in and set them free, and after Mama had paid her own casino dues, she spent months of long nights picking up shifts for the bartenders that came and went at Grandma’s side until she finally got called down to the Truck Stop to talk about working a regular shift.

Mama parks next to the Four Humors Ice-Cream Truck, and inside the Truck Stop, the Ice Cream Man himself is parked on a barstool. Mama says that the Ice Cream Man spends a lot of time at her bar but it’s the first time I’ve seen him here, and as we walk past him all I can think about is all that ice cream sitting out in the sun while he sits in here in the dark. Mama sits me at a table by the jukebox and turns my head away from the bar, points me toward the toys she’s put on the table. “Stop staring now, R.D.,” she says, “and keep your fingers crossed.”

My favorite toys are ones Grandma made, crocheted and stuffed: a polar bear with green scarf and hat, a family of mice, the littlest one holding a red lace heart with Grandma’s careful “I love Rory D.” stitched across its front, a yellow chick inside a cracked egg bright with spring flowers. Every day I bring a different one to show-and-tell, and today Mama had Grandma Mouse and Mama Mouse in the car with her when she picked Baby Mouse and me up from first grade. At first we four just sit facing each other and pretend not to be nervous for Mama over at the bar, but then I start looking through the labels on the front of the jukebox and forget I was nervous at all. There’s “Silver Threads and Golden Needles” and “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue” and Mama always has quarters for “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” and I like “Me and You and a Dog Named Boo” and I like that I can watch the people at the bar reflected in the jukebox’s glass case. There are two regulars I know, the Ice Cream Man and Dennis, but Mama is talking with a dark-haired woman I don’t know and can barely see, she is so short and tucked away on the other side of the bar.

I see Dennis has a pile of toilet paper in front of him and I know what he’s doing. Every time we come in to say hi to Grandma, Dennis gets up from his place at the very end of the bar, goes into the bathroom, and comes out a minute later. He takes toilet paper back to his seat where he sits squishing and turning and rolling it into the shape of a rose. It’s always a rose and it’s always for me. The first time he gave me one, he put his empty hand out for me to shake and I felt Mama go stiff and dangerous beside me. Grandma spoke up, soothing, “Jo, Dennis has been here longer than the Truck Stop has.” And to me, “R.D., would you look at that flower.” I shook Dennis’s big hand, which felt too rough to grow a flower out of TP, and said thank you and he went back to his seat. There are ten toilet-paper flowers on the shelf by my bed, and number eleven is interrupted when the Truck Stop door opens and in walks Timmy’s mom. I know Timmy from sometimes when we get babysat together so I know his mom too, but today the Hardware Man is hanging on his mom’s arm and I forget what I’m doing and drop Baby Mouse down the side of the jukebox remembering how the Hardware Man brought Mama in one night after driving her home from the Truck Stop. I watched his shadow over Grandma’s shoulder when she leaned down to hug me and whisper goodnight, but he didn’t whisper at all when he offered too many times to tuck Mama into bed. He kept offering even after Grandma left until Mama told him loud and clear, “Thanks for the ride, Jack.” She said “ride” like a car door slamming, quick and hard enough to break a finger, and that must’ve been what convinced him it was actually time to go; besides, his name isn’t Jack.

I push my cheek against the wall to where I can see Mouse caught against the jukebox in the dark. I kneel down and scrunch up as close as I can, reach my hand through cobwebs and cigarette butts, stretch my fingers, feeling for a leg or whisker, and finally, mouse tail. I hold tight with thumb and finger, and pull. She sticks but she comes out. The heart is unstitched from one paw but Mouse held on to it with the other and I am dusting her off when Mama comes over and says, “Friday and Saturday nights, Ror. Come meet my boss.”

At the end of the bar, Dennis finishes flower number eleven and messes my hair, and I wish my thank-you smile was loud enough to cover the Hardware Man’s voice saying, “Another jailhouse bouquet, Dennis.” And to me, “One day a real man’ll bring you a real bouquet, hon.”

The Hardware Man says “bouquet” like it looks, “ bow-ket,” and I don’t think before I say, “It’s bouquet, Jack. Like okay.”

From the corner of my eye I see the Ice Cream Man swivel away on his barstool like he just remembered he’s there to drink, but Dennis laughs loud and slaps the bar. I figure that’s going to make the apology I’ll have to say worth it when the Hardware Man starts laughing too, even though there’s not much funny in his voice: “O-kay, bou-quet! Got a smart one here, boys, look out! O-kay! Bou-quet!” He hits his knees and says it over and over, “ O-kay! Bou-quet!” until Timmy’s mom puts her hand on his arm and says to me, “Why Lori, you’ve got such a pretty face,” without caring if I’m pretty at all. Her bright blond hair is in big silky curls and they bounce when she turns and says to Mama, “This must be the first time I’ve seen Lori’s nose out of a book,” and she sure cares how pretty Mama is because her eyes move up and down and get narrow like her voice, but Mama’s voice rolls right back at her, growling with r’s, “Rory is the best reader in three grades.”

Timmy’s mom’s face goes white and dumb and my face goes pink as mouse ears with the hot shame of being smart and rubbing the Hardware Man’s nose in it and I’m still burning when up comes Pigeon. Pigeon is the tiny lady with dark hair who gave Mama weekend shifts we can count on, and she cuts right through all the laughter and growling, bends down, and takes my hand. She says my name right, like if she’s been saying it all her life, “I expect I’ll be seeing a lot more of you, Rory Dawn,” and we shake on it, like grown-ups.


Excerpted from Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman Copyright © 2012 by Tupelo Hassman. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Girlchild: A Novel 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 41 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
different than anything else i've read recently, but i'm not sure i could or would recommend this book to others. girl growing up poor, fatherless, in a trailer park, misunderstood, abused, somewhat depressing overall author's writing is hard to follow at times glad i read it but also glad it's finished
savannahcook More than 1 year ago
I almost gave up on this book, then would read one more short chapter after the other until I got to the end and said, "Well, I'm glad I read that book." I work at a middle school, and this book helped to remind me that not all children have a loving mother and father at home helping them succeed in school and in life. This little girl raised herself, protected her mother from knowing that she was being molested, and evidently was brilliant in school. The book ends the only way it could - with her striking out on her own. Yes, it's hard to follow at times. Then again, the chapter with all the lines blacked out showing what it was like in the dark bathroom ... well, that was brilliant if you have an imagination. So, take your chances if what I've said intrigues you! For those who are interested in knowing more about students who are this age, I also recommend Alice Bliss.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. She nailed it - the people in Calle, the girl and her mother and her grandmother; the abuse and wanting to still belong to her mother, and having to figure out how to forgive the fact that she wasn't protected. How hard it was to leave, and how it all stays with you even when you do leave and move on and do better than where you came from . . . I knew this girl once and I knew those people. She totally nailed it.
Monie120 More than 1 year ago
This book has good moments but it really wasn't what I expected. Not something I'd recommend. I've read better books about traumatic childhood experiences.
Lilac_Wolf More than 1 year ago
The cover caught my eye. A trailer that looks like it would feel at home in my trailer park but set in the desserts of Nevada. I started reading and it knocked me over to read a story that followed my own childhood eerily close. It didn't hide how common child sexual abuse is, but it didn't go into painful detail either. I think it was the perfect balance on such a difficult topic for so many (too many) women. This story is not an easy read. It deals with those living in poverty for generations as their own counter-culture. I thought it was brilliant because so much of it range true. Especially how anyone from the government (including or and especially police) is not to be trusted. How very hard people work just to get by. During a time when the stereotype of the welfare abusers is running rampant, we see that is stupid because even with welfare, life is hard and lean. I thought this was such a sad read, and so well written I literally couldn't put it down. It's not going to be for everyone. The story is written almost like a diary, with the time-frame and memories jumping all over the place without a lot of hints about where you are currently at in Rory Dawn's life. But I absolutely loved it, the story was completely captivating.
HarrietteWilson More than 1 year ago
Beautiful novel that takes on difficult topics---multigenerational poverty and physical and sexual abuse---in a sensitive way. The author's stream of consciousness approach might not be for everyone, but for those who appreciate its lyricism this is an incredible read.
literatissima More than 1 year ago
Rory Dawn Hendrix is an under-privileged, imaginative young girl, growing up a the low-class trailer park known as "The Calle" (de Las Flores) outside Reno, NV. She is the mother of a teenage mother who is the daughter of a teenage mother as well. There is heartbreak and disappointment in this life, but Rory finds comfort in The Girl Scout Handbook, spelling words and using her imagination to escape. Beautifully written in brief digestible chapters, stream of consciousness and intercalary interludes lend a unique voice to the main character and her coming of age saga. I would recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of modern lit, coming of age novels, serious dramatic themes and anyone who started out with a rough beginning in life.
Vick29 More than 1 year ago
Still trying to get through this book.....hate not to finish reading a book that I have paid good money for but it is hard. I guess I should keep my opinion to myself until I finally do finish it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hard to follow. Depressing.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I felt that she assumed readers could follow her thoughts more easily than they could. Very depressing concepts and attitude.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Tupelo Hassman is Shakespeare of the trailer park. Loved reading Girlchild.
KateUnger 8 months ago
I really liked the writing style in this book. It's broken down into small diary-like entries chronically Rory's life, although not entirely in order. Interspersed are reports from a social worker and entries that are more philosophical in nature or general observations about life in the Calle. Rory and her mother move from California to just outside Reno, NV when Rory is 4. Her four older brothers have moved away to find their father, and Rory and her mother go to live in a trailer park, known as the Calle, to be near her grandmother. Grandma Shirley had Jo when she was a teenager, Jo had her first child at 15, so Rory is the hope of the family. She is smart, and everyone is determined that she shouldn't mess up her life by getting pregnant. It reminded me of Me & Emma and A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty, but it was also very unique in the style and voice. I was attracted to this book because of the inclusion of Girl Scouts in the description. And while there is a thread of references to the Girl Scout Handbook, it's not as big of a plot element as I was expecting. The book definitely centers more about Buck v. Bell in which "feebleminded" women are deemed worthy of infertility by the Supreme Court. This quick read is a collage of snippets of the tragic and unfortunate way of life of many poor people in America.
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RebeccaScaglione More than 1 year ago
Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman is one of those books, that after reading other people's reviews, I was dying to read.  And luckily, this book fell into my hands after a library book sale (those are always the best, aren't they?). Girlchild is a book about Rory Dawn Hendrix, a girl who lives in the trailer park in Reno with her mother and near her grandmother.  Her life is not beautiful, not wonderful, not uplifting in any way at all. But Rory finds a connection with the Girl Scout Handbook, which is her bright shiny way out of the trailer park. Will Rory be able to break the cycle and not get pregnant young?  Will she be able to leave the trailer park and set up a new life for herself?  Or will she be just like her mother, stuck in the rut of the trailer park lifestyle forever? This is a tough book to read about.  There are issues like sexual abuse, drugs, and drinking.  But the sexual abuse is much less explicit (almost "hidden"), not like in the book Push. But similar to Push by Sapphire, Girlchild is a tough read that should be read.  It's a small window into a world that is foreign to most of us, but is REAL.  Don't shy away from it because it's tough: embrace it. What do you think about these kinds of tough reads? Thanks for reading, Rebecca @ Love at First Book
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GrammyReading More than 1 year ago
tupelo hassman can write...she can write very well...she can write so well i still have the taste of paper in my mouth from devouring this book..this girlchild...this chosen one to break the family curse....this all alone girl out in the desert of poverty had to make it matter what it took...ignorance, poverty, abuse, false promises, even death...and the girl scouts of america....lessons taught, observed and learned...rooted for her and cheered her on....this tupelo had a story to tell...and she told it well...thank you ms hassman
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love a book that can evoke emotion. Even if that emotion is a hard one. I like that she says so much without having to spell out all the gory details. Well done.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It was okay. Sad that humans treat one another this way!